Fwd: 10 Million Offered for Space Trip

Sun, 27 Apr 1997 15:39:18 -0400 (EDT)

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From: AOLNewsProfiles@aol.net
Date: 97-04-27 12:03:58 EDT

.c The Associated Press
By CONNIE FARROW ST. LOUIS (AP) - The prize: $10 million. The task: launch a spaceship that can give the average person a weekend trip in space. So far, 10 teams have registered to compete for the prize. The contestants range from inventors and company presidents to a serviceman and a retiree. The X Prize Foundation is offering the $10 million prize in the hope private enterprise will build a new space travel industry. The successful contestants must be able to build a spacecraft that can carry three adults 62 miles into space, can make two flights in two weeks and can land intact. Peter Diamandis, a 35-year-old with a medical degree from Harvard and an aerospace engineering degree from MIT who heads the foundation, said his generation grew up believing ``2001: Space Odyssey'' was more than a movie. ``Many people felt we clearly would have low-cost access for paying tourists in space by this point,'' he said. Diamandis is not alone in his dream of vacations in space at ``orbital hotels'' with panoramic views of the Earth. When he announced the prize last year on the Gateway Arch grounds in St. Louis, the crowd included Buzz Aldrin, who walked on the moon with Neil Armstrong in 1969, and Burt Rutan, who created the first plane to fly around the world without refueling. Rutan was the first to announce his intent to enter the X Prize competition. Although the private sector must build the winning rocket, NASA Administrator Dan Goldin said the government would provide any technical information that has been made public and make available equipment for purposes such as wind tunnel tests. Paul Tryon, a 65-year-old retiree from the St. Louis suburb of Hazelwood, was the ninth contestant to enter. He has more than 34 years experience in aeronautical engineering, having worked for McDonnell Douglas and Bell Aircraft. ``I definitely think it can be done,'' Tryon said. ``I think it has to be done if we're ever going to make serious use of space.'' Although most contestants won't talk in detail about their plans, Tryon said his initially involved using an F-4 military aircraft, which was built by McDonnell Douglas and is no longer used in the United States. He figured he could overhaul the control panel so the plane would go faster and make the altitude. ``My personal opinion is that you'll never be able to get the American public into something that looks like the Apollo,'' Tryon said. ``I think they'd be afraid of it, and frankly I think they'd be justified.'' The Air Force has since rejected Tryon's request to use an F-4, leaving Tryon back at square one. ``I'm not sure if I'll be able to carry on,'' he said. ``I don't want to develop a plane from scratch.'' Robert Zubrin, co-founder of Pioneer Rocketplane in Lakewood, Colo., said he was putting together a team to raise capital and build his spacecraft. Tony McPeak, former Air Force chief of staff and a four-star general, is among those he has recruited, Zubrin said. ``The same vehicle that we are developing for the X Prize competition will be able to launch satellites at half the current price or be able to fly passengers from New York to London in less than one hour,'' Zubrin said. Teammates Gary C. Hudson, president, and Bevin McKinney, chief executive, of HMX Inc., California, have been designing and building launch vehicles for more than a decade. The two are already doing some sheet metal work, according to Collette Bevis, spokeswoman for X Prize Foundation. Rutan, president of Scaled Composites in Mojave, Calif., has a formidable track record in aeronautical engineering. He created the Voyager, which in 1986 became the first aircraft to fly around the world on one tank of fuel. ``I believe that we have to have tourism, and I am tired of waiting for someone else to do it,'' Rutan said. ``Compared to the difficulty, danger and expense of flying in the 1920s, in relative numbers, leaving the atmosphere is a piece of cake.'' The announcement of the prize came on the 69th anniversary of Charles Lindbergh's solo, nonstop flight from New York to Paris. That flight in his Spirit of St. Louis single-engine plane took place May 20-21, 1927. Lindbergh won a $25,000 prize offered by New York hotel owner Raymond Orteig in 1919. Eight others grasped at the prize but failed. Lindbergh was backed by eight businessmen. Like Lindbergh, the not-for-profit X Prize Foundation has received support from St. Louis business leaders, who have donated $1 million for operations of the foundation. They're working on raising the $10 million for the prize. The prize's sponsor ideally would be a company, looking to target men ge 20 to 50, but individuals also have been approached, Diamandis said. ``This is not science fiction, this is real faith,'' he said. ``The fact that we have 10 teams registered so far shows that the will, the drive and the technology is out there.'' Diamandis predicted that someone will win the X Prize in three to five years. ``And one to two years after that, we will have commercial tickets available for sale,'' he said. Although some make fun of the X Prize, Diamandis believes he'll have the last laugh. ``The best way to predict the future is to create it,'' he said. ``And that's what we're trying to do.'' For more information on the X Prize, see the foundation's web site at www.xprize.org. AP-NY-04-27-97 1201EDT
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